To put it in the words of the Lonely Planet, "This slender coastal strip is defined by its layered landscape: almost 600km of glorious Arabian Sea coast and beaches; a languid network of glistening backwaters; and the spice- and tea-covered hills of the Western Ghats, dotted with fiercely protected wildlife reserves and cool hill stations such as Munnar. Just setting foot on this swathe of soul-soothing, palm-shaded green will slow your subcontinental stride to a blissed-out amble."
Kerala, rightly called as "God's Own Country", has a perfect blend of everything - the emerald green Western Ghats, the pristine blue backwaters with the coconut trees leaning over, and the golden sandy beaches. It has more colors than any painter can imagine to put on his canvas!
Being selected as one of the 50 destinations 'To visit once in a lifetime', Kerala was also nominated as one of the 13 paradises in the world, by the National Geographic Traveler. No wonder, the enchanting beauty of the land can leave anyone speechless! Although it has been there on our bucket list for quite some time, we could finally plan it a couple of months back and here's a glimpse of our journey through the photographs that we captured!
Here's a note of the best things in Kerala that we came across while exploring God's Own Country!
1. Go for a road trip along the Western Ghats!
The road trip from Kochi to Munnar & Thekaddy absolutely stole our hearts and we were left in awe by the varied shades of green! There were a couple of waterfalls on the way, apart from the spice gardens, coffee plantations and the tea estates which mostly cover the Western Ghats in this region. Living the urban life in concrete jungles, we tend to forget the charm that nature holds - but Thank God, Kerala still boasts a lot of greenery and helped us fill our lungs with freshness! As our car crossed the hills and the valleys, through the topsy-turvy lanes & hairpin bends, we munched on banana chips and enjoyed the monsoon breeze.
2. Soak in the freshness in Munnar & Thekkady!
There's something ethereal about Munnar & Thekkady! Those mist-clad hills and the sprawling tea gardens, unique montane shola grassland, and picturesque towns are just a few things that you can expect when you visit these beautiful hill stations. As we walked through the lush green tea gardens of Munnar and soaked in the freshness - we felt as if time had taken a pause and we were enchanted by the beauty of a perfect painting that seemed too good to be real! The monsoon clouds played hide-and-seek with the sun, as we hopped from one stop to another, in those couple of days. We kept our itinerary flexible and roamed around without a checklist - but we did explore the Eravikulam National Park, visited the Tea Museum & Mattupetty Dam in Munnar & took a boat ride in the Periyar National Park in Thekkady, and attended a Kathakali show as well.
3. Binge on the delicious Malabari cuisine!
(Guess the photographs have said it all!)
Kerala is a paradise for foodies, and we couldn't resist ourselves from experiencing the gastronomic adventure! From Masala Roasted Black Pomfret in Thekkady Cafe (thanks to a dear friend who suggested it) to the delicious Beef Roast & Malabari Porotta in the Alleppy - we were treated with the best dishes during this journey! Well, your trip to Kerala would be incomplete if you miss out the Ghee Rice, Fish Fry, Bamboo Biriyani & of course, Beef Roast. When in Kochi, do stop by the Forte Kochi Restaurant, 'coz they serve the best Malabari fish fry & Mango Sorbet that you'd never find anywhere else!
Pro Tip: Many restaurants (especially in Munnar & Thekkady) don't mention Beef in their menu card! You need to ask the person serving at your table, and he'll be the best person to give you the information.
4. Go for an Ayurvedic massage & rejuvenate yourself!
The 'Ayurvedic' treatment of Kerala is known across the world, and how could we miss the relaxing massage while we were there?! We decided to go for the massage on the very first day in Munnar, since we were tired after the long journey - and trust me when I say this - it actually did wonders! You can choose the duration of the massage (we opted for 45 mins) - and let yourself loose as the expert drenches you in ayurvedic oils and then gives you a soothing massage that eventually calms down all the muscles! After the massage, take a steam bath to get rid of the oil and walk out of the parlor, totally rejuvenated!
5. Watch a Kathakali Dance show!
Of course, this is another thing that we couldn't have missed! Kathakali is one of the richest classical dance forms and a unique 'story-play' genre of art, which is distinguished by the elaborate & colorful make-up of the performers. Kathakali draws its subject matter from the Hindu epics chronicling the lives, loves, and conflicts of the Gods and heroes of Indian mythology. While most of the major cities (and even small towns) have Kathakali shows, we opted to see the performance at Mudra Kathakali Centre, which is pretty popular in Kumily Region, Thekkady. Accompanied by percussion instruments, a vocalist sang the songs and interpreted the story, while silent actors vividly translate their words into a language of facial expressions, bodily attitudes and poses, and figurations of the hands (mudras, as they are called). The Kathakali shows are usually in Malayalam, however, there was an English translator, who narrated the story from time to time.
6. Cruising in the backwaters of Alleppey!
Known as 'The Venice of the East', cruising along the backwaters of Alleppy on a houseboat was definitely one of the highlights of the journey! There are several options - one can either choose to spend a night in the houseboat, getting a room in it; or, stay at one of the picturesque resorts overlooking the brackish lagoons and go for a sunset cruise, soaking in the gorgeousness of the scarlet sky. Well, we opted for the latter! As we sat on the deck of this traditional styled boat that passed through the coconut groves, floating on the calm waters, our boatswain pointed towards the horizon which was painted in the most beautiful shades of red & orange! It was a treat for the eyes, as the boat slowly moved ahead and we got closer to the mind-numbing beauty. We gazed till the scarlet shades were wiped off and the sun sank down, paving way for darkness to tiptoe in.
Suggestion - If you are looking for hotels in Alleppy, we would suggest you to stay at which is surrounded by the shores of the famous Punnamada Lake in Alleppy and we got a room with a view, which was a delightful treat!
7. Snap Kochi's gorgeous fishing nets & fish markets!
This area, surely, is one of the most crowded parts of Kochi and when we arrived at the shores to see & capture the Chinese fishing nets, there were hundreds of others, doing the same! The Chinese fishing nets are unique in this part of the country, and it seems that the Chinese explorer probably brought this technique, centuries ago, which allows one single fisherman to operate a 20-meters-wide fishing net by himself. There's a fish market, just next to the fishing area, where the fresh catches of the day are sold (don't fall in the tourist trap, and make sure to bargain before you buy!). And guess what! You can pick your fish from the market and have it cooked by one of the restaurants nearby. Sounds amazing, right?
8. Walk down the colorful lanes of the Jew Town in Kochi!
This surely turned out to be a hidden gem, where foreigners flock in numbers but it's mostly skipped by Indian travelers! Again, thanks to the same old friend who recommended us to walk down the alleys of Jew Town. This part of Kochi is surely more quaint than the rest of the city, lined with colonial houses, some of which are painted in bright colors, and innumerable stores selling antiques, curios, and artifacts. To add to that, there are several cafes that have cropped up here, and Loafer's Cafe is one of the best among them! Don't forget to stop by the Ginger House Museum Restaurant and walk down till the end, to pay a visit to the Jewish Synagogue.
9. Gaze at the breathtaking sunset of Varkala!
The long sandy stretch of Varkala, also known as Papanasham beach, is believed to have medicinal and curative properties! (There must be some myth around it, we didn't dig much into that!) Unlike the rather crowded and touristy beaches of Goa or Gokarna, which attracts thousands of travelers, Varkala has a rustic charm which isn't spoilt yet and as we walked down the beach, gazing at the setting sun, our eyes were dazzled by the reflections on the shimmering water! Our hearts filled with joy as we witnessed the changing colors of the sky - red, yellow, orange, blue, purple, and many more! We treated ourselves with a hearty meal comprising of crab curry and fried calamari, at the beach shacks and continued with our journey ahead.
10. Stroll on the beaches of Kovalam!
This crescent-shaped beach, located on the outskirts of Trivandrum, is definitely the most popular one in Kerala! Coming from Varkala, Kovalam seemed too crowded but its gorgeousness wasn't hampered in any way. The golden beach remains sandwiched between the sapphire waters and the lush green palm trees dotting the periphery of the coastal area. Travelers from all across the world were soaking in the sun and getting tanned, while some were splashing with the waves. Keeping aside the worries of life, we walked down the beach from one end to another, observing how nature and mankind are intertwined with each other.
While we did this trip in about 6 nights and 7 days (that's budget-friendly but a bit too hectic, as we had to keep hopping from one place to another), we would suggest you to keep more time in hand, so that you can get to explore more peacefully rather than continuously traveling from one stop to the next. Or maybe, you can split your trip and choose to explore just the beaches of Kerala or the Western Ghats.
We definitely look forward to heading back again, sometime in the near future! Needless to say, the taste of beef roast & appam still lingers on our tastebuds and often, our eyes long for the myriad colors of dusk that we witnessed at the beaches of Varkala.
If you've been to Kerala and explored something that we've missed out, then do let us know in the comments below - and we'll add that to our bucket list ????